Week Seventeen: May 5, 2017

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    Budget negotiations likely to be tense from the start

    With just over two weeks left to negotiate a more than $40 billion budget for the next two years, there is a wide gulf between House and Senate Republicans and DFLers. Caucus leaders from both parties met behind closed doors with Governor Dayton this week to outline a framework to begin budget negotiations.

    Before numbers can be agreed to, Governor Dayton has made it clear Republicans must remove the more than 600 policy provisions currently in the budget bills. These provisions run the gamut from halting any future light rail projects to limiting the department of agriculture from governing the use of harmful pesticides to eliminating 40-years’ worth of campaign finance reforms.

    The leaders and Governor have announced they will begin working on the higher education and agriculture bills first, hoping to come to some agreements at least early on in the process. DFLers largely oppose the higher education bill – a $125 million bill that vastly underfunds both the MNstate and U of M systems. It also imposes tuition freezes without providing the funding to do so – meaning cuts are on the horizon for colleges and universities across the state

    DFLers held several press conferences this week highlighting small but hugely effective policy provisions. Earlier in the week a group of supporters met to denounce Republican attempts to shut down the 30-year-old Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley. Later in the week several senators were joined by the bipartisan Minnesota League of Women Voters to call out the elimination of campaign finance reforms. They went into depth about the “stunning and harmful changes” to our campaign finance laws and how it serves as an attack on clean elections.

    In nearly every budget category, experts in the field are decrying the massive underfunding, the shifts to cover up questionable budgeting in future years, and in some cases the total destruction of popular programs like pre-k.

    Republicans are saying in some cases they’d like to spend more, but much of the surplus money has either already been spent – like the $900 million given to health insurance companies and buying down premiums for Minnesotans purchasing their health insurance on the individual market. Republicans are choosing to put any leftover money into a tax bill, currently sitting at $1.13 billion, nearly half of which is going to the wealthy and big businesses. In fact, most Minnesotans will not see tax cuts but will be paying the price for unsustainable tax cuts for years to come.

    All of this means the negotiations that will happen over the next few weeks will likely be animated and tense, to say the least. Session is constitutionally mandated to end on May 22.

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    House finally releases bonding bill

    The House Republicans released their bonding proposal this week. The bill would appropriate $600 million in General Obligations (GO) bonds to fund the repair and replacement of government assets across the state. The House bill falls extremely short of what Senate Republicans and Governor Dayton have released in their bonding proposals. The House author acknowledges the release of the bill is just part of the process and will grow as it moves through the legislative process.

    In the last weeks of session, two divisive bills heard on the Senate floor

    Two bills aimed at limiting access to abortions in Minnesota were on the Senate floor this week. Both bills have previously been determined as unconstitutional. Governor Dayton has vetoed similar legislation in the past and has indicted he will veto the legislation again if it reaches his desk.

    Legislators decry elimination of Minnesota’s campaign finance reforms

    DFL senators, alongside the Minnesota League of Women Voters and a former chair of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, raised serious concerns at a press conference this week about Republicans’ proposal to eliminate Minnesota’s long-standing campaign finance reforms, including the public subsidy. The reforms in question were enacted 40 years ago in response to the Watergate scandal.

    E-12 conference committee report shutters Perpich Center

    Tying must-pass budget bills to toxic policy provisions has become common-place at the legislature. One disturbing provision in the E-12 bill closes the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley after over 30 years of top-notch arts education for students all over the state.

    PTSD amendment added to workers’ comp proposal

    An amendment was offered to the workers’ compensation bill that would protect public safety workers. The amendment would classify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a presumptive illness for police, paramedics, firefighters, and others.

    Abandoning cybersecurity needs

    The final Republican agreement for the state government finance omnibus bill includes no new investment in cybersecurity funding. The Senate position originally provided $2 million in new money for MN.IT Services, which provides information technology services to most state agencies. The lack of funding has the potential to make Minnesotans’ data less secure, increase the chances of hacking, and ultimately make state government less efficient and responsive to citizens’ needs.

    Medical Assistance claims bill passes the Senate

    On Monday, a bill modifying the provisions for Medical Assistance (MA) claims against estates passed the Senate floor by a vote of 64-0. The bill will bring state law into compliance with federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations for recovering MA paid for long-term care services.

    Senate approves bill to regulate auto renewal of consumer contracts

    The Senate approved a bipartisan bill this week to regulate landscape application contracts by removing the requirement that the contracts be in writing but requires the commercial application company to provide annual written notice to the customer of the customer’s ability to cancel or discontinue the agreement at any time.

     

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    Agriculture and Rural Development Conference Committee

    Many Republicans won their elections in rural areas. However, their leadership has not made rural Minnesota a priority in this budget area.

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    E-12 bill short-changes schools, cuts pre-K funding

    The $300 million budget target lacks the necessary funding to increase by 2% the basic education formula, cuts voluntary free pre-kindergarten funding, and closes the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

    Higher Education budget proposal ignores Governor’s recommendations, could increase tuition

    The House and Senate Republicans’ higher education budget agreement unveiled on Monday ignores not only the Governor’s recommendations, but also the requests from the MnState and University of Minnesota systems.

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    Environment and Natural Resources Finance conferees find agreement on controversial bill

    The Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee agreement released this week makes substantial cuts in environment and natural resources budgets and includes many controversial policy changes that environmental advocates say will push the state significantly backward in its ability to protect air, land, and water.

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    HHS conference committee agreement made up of budget shifts and gimmicks

    The irresponsible budget agreement, put together behind closed doors then approved in three hours with no public testimony, is based on over $500 million in fake savings that cannot be proven and shifts and gimmicks.

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    Republican agreement for Jobs, Commerce, and Energy Conference Committee released

    There was no discussion on the proposal or public testimony; instead nonpartisan staff went through the spreadsheet and bill language. Testimony, amendments, and legislators’ discussion were put off for another day.

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    Judiciary budget doesn’t reflect priorities

    Minnesotans demand that our core government services, like access to our justice system, be funded and this budget simply does not do that and actually moves our state backwards.

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    Arbitrary cuts to state government services

    The state government omnibus budget agreement was rolled out Tuesday and includes deeper cuts than the original Senate proposal, slashing $43 million from an already lean state government budget.

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    Tax agreement overspends; sends most relief to business allies

    The committee approved $1.13 billion of spending in about an hour on Monday evening, including several provisions Governor Dayton has promised to veto.

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    Transportation bill bottoms out our roads and bridges

    This bill hardly begins to scratch the surface of the needs of our transportation system. This low amount leaves many Minnesotans and businesses in no better shape than they are in today.